“I just want to be able to eat like a normal person,” she said.
I was chatting with a group of moms at the hockey arena (waiting for my daughter to finish her game) and the subject of dieting came up. Of course I was fascinated by what each of them had to say about their frustrations with it all (this is what I do for a living after all).
They talked about having no time to cook healthy meals, trying desperately to avoid carbs (with minimal success) and feeling regularly sabotaged by a husband who insisted on having chips in the house and ordering pizza three nights a week.
All things I’d experienced first hand!
I asked, “If you could wave a magic wand, what would you make your relationship with food look like?”
They got right into the imaginary exercise! A couple of them said they’d make it so they could eat anything they wanted without gaining weight. One wished to not need to eat food at all. But when another woman said, “I just want to be able to eat like a normal person,” almost every single one of them immediately started nodding in agreement that that’s what they wanted too.
It got me thinking as I drove home that night.
What does that mean? “Eat like a normal person.” On one hand I 100% understood what she was getting at. She meant that she wanted to be someone who was free of the hold that food currently had on her.
She wanted to be one of those people who “forgets to eat” and eats more for fuel than feelings.
She wanted to feel like she was in control at all times – no matter where she was or whom she was with. She wanted to be free.
But I thought that it was such an interesting choice of words – “normal person.”
What exactly does a normal person eat? Does this person even exist?
And does that mean she’s currently abnormal?
The phrasing of it really bothered me for some reason. And as I thought more about it as I drove I realized that what I disliked about the statement so much was that it was a backhanded way of saying that there was something wrong with her.
That she wasn’t working properly. That she was lacking or defective in some way.
Or worse, that she was to blame.
That there were “normal people” walking around out there who were strong and organized and successful, but that she wasn’t one of them. She was weak, messy and flawed…failing.
And that makes me crazy.
Because here’s the actual truth – there is nothing abnormal, defective or inadequate about working on your relationship with food. There’s nothing abnormal about starting and stopping. Nothing abnormal about feeling frustrated or like you’re forever going in circles. This is what millions of us are doing.
Exploring and improving your relationship with food is a way of exploring and improving your relationship with yourself. It’s a big job that goes way beyond weekly meal prep and carb cravings. At its core it’s about learning to love yourself and feel your feelings. This is not a quest for the weak.
You are not weak if you’re going back and forth with eating habits, exercise and self-care. You are simply in the middle of a bumpy but oh-so-worthy journey.
Imagine you met someone who was just learning how to play the violin. They might play for you and make a whole lot of mistakes. There might be awkward squeaks and wonky notes. They might have to go back to the beginning of the piece they were playing a few times before they could get on the right track. And this would likely go on for years.
But would you say that they were failing? Would you say they were weak, defective or inadequate?
Would you write them off as someone who will never be able to play the violin?
Would you consider them “abnormal” (“too bad you can’t play the violin like a normal person”)?
No. You’d know that they were learning. You’d know that they were on a path. You’d celebrate them for the things they’d learned so far and you’d look forward to watching them grow, progress and blossom. If they were feeling frustrated you’d likely encourage them to be patient and look back at how far they’d already come.
Working on your relationship with food is no different.
You’re on a path. You’re learning. You may feel like you’re going in circles, but the fact is that you’ve learned, you’ve experimented, you’ve grown, you’ve had ups and downs, but you’re smack dab in the middle of your story. The fact that you’re reading this – that you’ve ever tried anything at all to improve your relationship with food – proves that.
Just like the violin player, your progress may not be as linear, consistent or quick as you might like, but that is irrelevant to the fact that it is still progress. You are on your way, just like everyone else. And there could not be anything more normal than that.